Seven treasures

by Catherine Marshall

Can you sum up the world in seven Christmas gifts? Catherine Marshall gives it a shot. 


One of the most pleasurable side-effects of travel is being able to bring home a little piece of the world with you. Some of my favourites? The balsa wood pestle and mortar I got from a woman deep inside the Amazon jungle; the scalloped curtain I found in a bazaar in Pushkar, India; the carving of an orange-robed monk I picked up at the floating markets at Myanmar’s Lake Inle. He welcomes visitors at my front door.

Now with the gift-giving season rapidly approaching, I’m nominating a Christmas gift from each continent: seven treasures that I’ve gathered during my global jaunts. Each one kindles memories of adventures and enlarged boundaries and new friendships; they also remind me of the joy that comes in returning home.

South America

Atacama Desert, Chile

This is an otherworldly landscape in Chile’s far north, a moonscape glazed with salt pans and slick with lakes on which hot pink flamingos improbably prance. The world’s largest open pit copper mine lies here, in Antofagasta, and it’s from this burnished landscape that my copper earrings were dug (not ready-made, of course). They remind me of this striated landscape every time I wear them.


Salalah, Oman

This region was once the centre of the world’s frankincense trade. In fact, the three wise men probably did their shopping here, for the wadis and deserts are filled with frankincense trees. The sap that bleeds from their flaky branches hardens to become frankincense. You can buy burners of every size and colour in the city’s fragrant frankincense souk – and use them to scent your house and your clothes, the way Omanis do.


Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

The bright future vigorously pursued by Rwandans following the brutal genocide of 1994 is reflected in the baskets woven by women around the country. Every day, this group of women sets out their wares on a ledge at Virunga Volcanoes Lodge  overlooking Lake Ruhondo in the country’s northwest.


Gunbalanya, West Arnhem Land

The colours of country are reflected in the pigments used by the Indigenous women of Arnhem Land to dye their dilly bags: clay whites, golden ochres, glorious rust-reds. Visitors need a permit to enter this traditionally owned region in Australia’s Top End; at Injalak Art Centre you can watch artists at work and pick out Indigenous-made treasures.

North America

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The oldest church structure in the US was built here by Tlaxcalan Indians, working under the supervision of Spanish Franciscans around 1610. The original foundations are preserved within the simple adobe edifice. Catholic spirituality runs deep here still, and icons such as this wood-painted image of Our Lady of Guadalupe are popular keepsakes.


Vienna, Austria

Here you can have your cake and eat it – and take some home to your family! Sacher torte – invented by apprentice chef Franz Sacher more than 180 years ago – is baked fresh each day and served at the famous Hotel Sacher. It’s also exported all around the world – and sold to those who just can’t get enough at the Sacher’s tearooms. The recipe, of course, is top secret.


You’ll bring home something priceless from this frozen continent: a renewed awe for the world in which we live. Tabular icebergs the size of apartment blocks float on the bays, mammoth glaciers sweep down to the water’s edge, sea ice shatters like glass – and polar creatures like penguins and seals bathe themselves in the icy glow. For a gift with a difference, send your loved ones a postcard from Port Lockroy; it’ll be postmarked in the most southerly post office in the world. TTW

Catherine Marshall travelled as a guest of various operators. Photos © Catherine Marshall

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